Why the African Union may struggle to mediate in Ivory Coast
Four representatives of the African Union arrived in Ivory Coast today for yet another attempt at mediating the country's presidential election crisis.
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This week, at least seven major banks shut down operations in Ivory Coast, spreading fears of a cash shortage and leaving civil servants seeking to cash their February paychecks scratching their heads. Thousands of people are hoarding cash, and fears of deflation are starting to set in.Skip to next paragraph
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Western diplomats think that if Gbagbo can't pay the military, he won't be able to remain in power. But while the economic pressure seems to favor Ouattara, the search for a political solution appears to be as lost as ever.
The AU is one of the organizations that came out in favor of Ouattara early on, certifying his victory in early December. That certification was reiterated when the arbitration panel was announced, leaving the impression that their final report was politically influenced from the outset.
Gbagbo seems to have recognized this, and could be using the panel's one-month working timeline to buy more time in power. His foreign minister said in early February that Gbagbo supports the arbitration, although he wouldn't respect any decision that didn't concur with the constitutional council. In other words, Gbagbo wouldn't accept a solution that doesn't recognize him as winner.
Why wait for the African Union?
Ouattara also seems to have given up on the AU panel and has turned to to a more aggressive strategy for assuming power. When the people of Tunisia and Egypt overthrew their leaders, they didn't need an international body like the AU, Ouattara's Prime Minister Guillaume Soro said last week. Why then, he asked, are we waiting for them to save us?
Soro called on Ouattara supporters to descend into the streets in an “Egypt-style” uprising to force Gbagbo from power. This weekend, protests took place across the country, peacefully in the north, where Ouattara's support is strong, and with deadly consequences in the south, where Gbagbo continues to hold the reins of power.
At least three people were killed in the Abobo district of Abidjan, where clashes between Ouattara supporters and police have left at least a dozen people dead since the beginning of the year.
The UN says that almost 300 people have died in post-election violence at a rate of three or four a day.
The possibility of violence and a return to civil war hangs heavily in many people's minds as each side digs in and looks less and less likely to accept any solution that doesn't go their way.
Some still peg their hopes on a powersharing arrangement like the ones implemented after similarly contested elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe. These agreements have proved to be almost unworkable in practice, but they did avoid the worst outcome: that of civil war.